Over a week into the students' occupation of Taiwan's legislative building, both the ruling party and its opposition have shown intent on finding a peaceful end to the standoff over a cross-Strait service pact.
Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou on Tuesday said via his spokeswoman that he was willing to hold talks with students "without any preconditions" to solve the impasse and allow the legislative body to resume its work.
This was a major step by the ruling KMT party, chaired by Ma, to solve the crisis after failed negotiations between the students and the administrative chief Jiang Yi-huah on Saturday.
In response, student leader Lin Fei-fan agreed to the talk without preconditions, though he later rephrased the statement, saying they were expecting more sincerity from Ma before any negotiation could take place.
Hundreds of students broke into the legislative building in Taipei on Tuesday last week. They have been protesting about what they see as "undemocratic tactics" used by the KMT to ratify the pact. They are also worried about the impact the service pact could have on the local economy.
After days of protesting the standoff escalated when some students, aggravated by Ma's defense of the pact, joined other protesters to storm the nearby administrative building on Sunday night.
This prompted the authority to send in the police, who forcibly removed the students in the early hours of Monday morning. More than 170 people were injured.
In response, the students continued their sit-in at the legislative building. On Monday and Tuesday, the number of protestors dwindled.
"We are here because we care about Taiwan. We fear the pact will change society into something we don't want," said a college student surnamed Lin, who was among the hundreds outside the legislative building.
"IGNORANCE AND FEAR"
The students fear the pact could lead to mainland workers taking jobs and investors dominating key local industries like telecommunications and media.
A follow-up to the 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), the service trade agreement aims to open up 80 of the mainland's service sectors to Taiwan and 64 Taiwan sectors to the mainland.
The Taiwan authority insisted the pact was vital for the island's economic liberalization, while its impact on local businesses would be limited. The pact does not involve the opening of labor markets, and mainland investors would have limited access to many Taiwan sectors.
However, the students are still unconvinced.
"Imagine one day, all the convenient stores in your community are run by mainlanders. Taiwanese youngsters failing to find jobs at home, forced to toil on the foreign land," a speaker proclaimed via a microphone to his audience outside the legislative building.
KMT legislator Wu Yu-sheng blamed such bias on ignorance and fear of the Chinese mainland fueled by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
"I doubt any of the students outside the legislative building have paid attention to the 20 public hearings we have held," Wu said during an interview with Xinhua.
"If the pact would really harm Taiwan's industries, why has the protest been mainly attended by students, not workers, labor unions or people from the business sectors?" Wu asked, adding that sectors were supportive of the pact during the review process.
Signed in June, the service pact spent over five months waiting to be ratified in Taiwan's legislative authority.
Wu said the opposition DPP had persistently blocked the review process. Wu said the KMT was forced to unilaterally decide that the clause-by-clause review had been completed. It was sent to the legislative session on Monday last week.
The KMT decision sparked protests from the DPP and students, leading to accusations of "undemocratic" tactics used to speed up ratification of the pact.
A WAY OU
A second round of negotiation on Tuesday failed to see the KMT and DPP representatives to the legislative authority agree a review of the pact. The negotiation was held in the residence of legislative head Wang Jin-pyng to discuss a solution to the prolonged stalemate.
Meanwhile, protestors' changing demands have not helped. Initially they proposed resuming a detailed review. This was replaced with total rejection, passing legislation to monitor future cross-Strait agreements and convening a "citizen constitutional conference."
Political observers criticized the demands.
The DPP, which has voiced support to the students, has gone so far as demanding a detailed review of the pact, rather than its dismissal.
Ma said rejection of the pact would damage cross-Strait relations, block future ECFA negotiations and seriously harm Taiwan's credibility.
The failure to reach an agreement has raised concerns over a widening split in Taiwan society and its impact on the economy, especially after students called for workplace strikes on Monday.
On Tuesday, 52 business groups appealed for an end to the protest and resumption of the pact being reviewed. The standoff has caused political confrontation and social instability, and Taiwan's economy can not withstand more devastation, said Hsu Sheng-hsiung, chairman of the Federation of Industries.